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KPBSD Reviews Social Media Policy

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Kenai Peninsula Borough School District
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In today’s digital landscape, a student’s responsibility for respectful communication could extend beyond the school day.

A recent incident of a Soldotna High School hockey player posting racist, demeaning comments on a personal Twitter account is demonstrating the Kenai Peninsula School District’s evolving approach to social media use among students. 

Pegge Erkeneff, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District spokesperson, says there can be a gray area between respecting a student’s free speech and ensuring a positive school climate.

“The biggest thing there would be if something’s coming back and affecting the school in some way. So if it’s something that happens off site but it spills back over into the school climate and into affecting learning, then the school has grounds for a response,” said Erkeneff.

Two posts denigrating Alaska Natives, the former first family and the LGBTQ community appeared Thursday and Friday on the Twitter account of a captain of the hockey team. The student did not play in hockey games in Anchorage over the weekend. Erkeneff says she can’t comment on that particular incident or any disciplinary action that might have been taken, citing privacy law.

“We do know there were recent comments posted on social media and they’re not consistent with our policy and they won’t be tolerated, and I can also say the district is taking it very seriously and pursuing appropriate action,” said Erkeneff.

Erkeneff says the district approaches digital media use in several ways. There’s a program called Common Sense Media taught from kindergarten through 12th grade. It covers communicating responsibly, protecting private information, standing up to cyber bullying, respecting others’ opinions and giving proper credit when citing other people’s work. In fourth grade, students sign a pledge to be good digital citizens.

“That’s imbedded now in our curriculum because so much of learning and interaction is happening in our classrooms in an online environment, so it starts with the basics of how do you even be safe with our little kiddos, and then it goes on from there,” said Erkeneff.

Students communicate about school and personal matters in and out of school, and some of those communications might be negative. That’s nothing new. But the much wider, instantaneous reach afforded by social media is a new twist.

“A student right is to express his or her opinion verbally or in writing. And now with all these other platforms, there’s lots of ways that we express opinions verbally or in writing. But hand in hand with those rights is a student responsibility to express his or her opinion and ideas in a respectful manner that does not slander others,” said Erkeneff.

The district has a policy around ensuring a positive school climate and culture, and Erkeneff says negative behavior online, even outside of school, could violate that policy.

If an issue arises, it is dealt with on the school level first. Disciplinary action could be taken just as if a comment were scrawled on a locker or shouted in an assembly.

If a student participates in athletics or some other extra-curricular activity, there’s another layer of responsibility. Extra-curricular participation is a privilege, not a right, and is contingent on good conduct. Students receive a letter about the expectation of good sportsmanship.

“It says specifically, ‘You’re the spokesperson for your school and the district when you represent us in athlete competitions, and your actions are viewed by family and friends and fans and the community and the media. So a display of good sportsmanship is showing the most positive things about you and your school,” said Erkeneff.

Erkeneff says the goal isn’t to limit free speech, but to encourage constructive communication.

“The bigger, deeper part is looking at how we respect one another and how we speak to one another and the words that we use and the viewpoints we have towards one another and how that gets shown through social platforms,” said Erkeneff.

Erkeneff says KPBSD posts its policies and curriculum on its website and the district welcomes dialog about these issues.

Jenny reports on the Kenai Peninsula Borough and other stories in the Central Kenai Peninsula for KBBI.